Gone Girl

October 3, 2014

I don’t know how to write about this film without extensive spoilers, so watch the film before reading.

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Gone Girl runs from relationship autopsy to eerie mystery to chess match thriller to absurdist melodrama, all the while holding up a satirical flare and a cold, wily grin as it straddles it’s many tonal shifts. It’s one of the finest examples of craftsmanship of the year, and it’s also one of the most cynical motion pictures in quite some time. Read the rest of this entry »

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Derek Cianfrance’s previous film – and the only of his I have seen – was Blue Valentine, a somewhat inelegant but certainly affecting (really trying to avoid “raw” here) two-hander about the blossoming and breakdown of a relationship.  What it lacked in visual interest (grainy, handheld, American Indie by-the-numbers) it made up for with pacing and, of course, performances.  That picture worked through incredible acting, and it had to, as there wasn’t much else to rely on.  It was an exercise in reactions, movement, and glances.  It was a picture of big emotions because of its small proportions.  His follow-up, The Place Beyond the Pines, takes a different tack, although one suspects he was hoping to work within the same emotional model.  It’s a sprawling, 140-minute saga, with a triptych structure that unfortunately makes it feel like it is going on for a lot longer than it’s already lengthy running time.  It’s a shame he couldn’t have learned a lesson from his last film, then, and realized that Big Emotions don’t necessarily need a Big Story.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lars von Trier’s Melancholia begins with a series of tableaux that, like the opening of his previous film Antichrist, could be a demented perfume ad.  This time around, however, he’s putting his cards on the table at the very start.  The images reflect both the mental state of its two main characters and a portent for things to come. A bride is being ensnared by limbs and roots, a woman runs frantically across the 19th green of a golf course clutching a child, the bride is peacefully sinking into water like Millais’ Ophelia, and so on and so on.  Never one to hold back theatrical bombast, this is all set to a piece from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.  It ends with nothing less than the destruction of earth as a significantly larger heavenly sphere smashes through it.  This prologue is both beautiful and almost laughably overblown, but it is also turns out to be an incredibly useful mood-setter for events to come.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Beaver

August 30, 2011

Issue Films tend to be the most problematic projects that Hollywood produces on a regular basis.  There is a tendency to treat serious subjects in a po-faced, serious way that is often reductive and, more often than not, insulting.  The most obvious recent example is the Best Picture winning, critically loathed Crash, which treats race in America in such an insulting, ham-fisted way that only a self-congratulatory cabal of morons could pat themselves on the back for being so damn sensitive.  There’s also the issue of Hollywood having to be Hollywood.  A serious subject can give weight to a film that doesn’t deserve it, because the audience will be guilted into thinking it is something they are supposed to like, but it can’t be too alienating that it just flat out depresses people.  So you get a po-faced representation of a real problem, but you must distract the messiness because it’s still a movie and people don’t want to leave thinking there are Real Problems that are too complicated to be easily dealt with.  This all means awkwardly shoehorning the serious subject into a classical, comforting formula, often leading to a series of offensively dull clichés peppering a structure too rigid to allow a serious exploration of whatever serious subject they want to explore/exploit.  Jode Foster’s The Beaver falls into an awful lot of these traps.  In fact, it falls into so many I wouldn’t blame anyone for hating it.  Read the rest of this entry »

Black Swan

December 8, 2010

Ballet is a peculiar art form in today’s society.  Now, I’m not just saying that because I don’t understand it, though that is certainly part of it.  I mean that it feels like such an anachronism and yet it surely one of the toughest and most competitive performance arts around.  For something that has become a cultural byword for “boring crap your girlfriend always wants to do”, the physical turmoil for the performers is disproportionately brutal.  Or so it seems to me, for I do not run in circles in which the ballet is a regularly attended event on the social calendar.  All of this is to say that it is something of a niche art form, and one gets the impression only the obsessively dedicated, passionate, and in some ways masochistic ever really make it.  There is a scene in Black Swan in which Nina (Natalie Portman) and her fellow dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) are in a bar talking to some guys they just met.  They know nothing of the ballet aside from having heard of Swan Lake, and Nina begins to excitedly tell them about it and offer them tickets.  Lily changes the subject, knowing full well that these guys and, well, most people don’t care.  Nina doesn’t understand that.  Her life has been the ballet, and the film is about an obsessive artist who knows nothing else and cannot come to terms with anything beyond it. Read the rest of this entry »